When a young executive at a technology company is found dead in her apartment, the result of a supposed suicide, the police call in renowned scientist Frederick Russell to ensure the diagnosis is correct in psychological thriller — The Signifier.
The world has advanced; leaps in artificial intelligence and technology have enabled humans to map the human brain to the point where it’s possible with the right hardware to delve into the memories within. With new advancements also comes new governance and the TSB (Technology Safeguard Bureau) is created to enforce those rules. When Johanna Kast; a Vice President at the world’s leading technology company; is found dead, the TSB suspect foul play and engage Dr Russell to investigate Johanna’s memories for the truth.
The Signifier is a first person adventure game played out through the eyes of Frederick Russell. Developed by PlayMeStudio and published by Raw Fury, The Signifier not only asks the player to try to solve the case at hand but also questions the morality, legality and conscience of the player at intervals throughout the narrative. This is presented with both branching dialogue options which, depending upon the thoroughness of your investigation, may or may not be available. In addition to this, rather than let you dwell on dialogue choice in the moment, The Signifier employs a fairly aggressive timer mechanic within the duration of which you will need to make some fairly major and story impacting decisions.
As Dr Russell’s investigation begins he heads off to Johanna’s apartment. The real world is portrayed like something out of an Ikea catalogue, clean lines and modern furniture make up the majority of Johanna’s abode and it would be a perfect magazine spread home if not for the police tape, smashed furniture and the general results of her suicide. After acquainting yourself with the situation it’s time to return to the lab and delve into Johanna’s most recent memories.
At this point the first signs of significant decisions and morally searching questions come at you from your TSB contact; Tom. Tom wants you to retrieve personal information from Johanna’s memories. The questions flood in; will this help the case? Is the request legal? What if it’s not related to the case? You don’t have long to decide and the pressure starts building. The pressure persists, it’s always there, building in the background, centering the narrative on Russell’s obvious struggle with his decisions and culminates in one of a few endings possible from your actions.
Dream or memory recollection tends to be fuzzy at best, a patchwork of standout features or events surrounded in familiar but generally unclear circumstances or places. The Signifier uses this sort of method well to portray Johanna’s memories. Having just visited her apartment, the Dreamwalker’s (Dr Russell’s AI enabled platform) representation of Johanna’s home is like a distorted oil painting in comparison to the clean lines of the real world. Based on her last memory there’s also key differences between your real world experience and the memory for you to explore. The detail is faded and isn’t there in all but the most important artifacts or locations leading you to concentrate your efforts there.
It’s not a perfect representation of the real world and as with some dreams there are odd, almost supernatural or out of place elements you can recall which signify specific people, actions and emotions. The Signifier allows you to move between the state of each memory you explore, from the objective state to the subjective state, from the detail to the more surreal. This is where Dr Russell’s expertise and internal monologues fill in the gaps in the player’s own knowledge of psychology, with the explanations behind the theory allowing you to proceed through intelligent action rather than trial and error but adding further mystery or tension to the narrative rather than detracting from it.
With an already dark premise, The Signifier goes down the rabbit hole as you further explore Johanna’s memories. Dr Russell’s AI is always on hand with hints pointing Russell in the next direction although sometimes you are left to your own devices to figure out the next move. By the final quarter, it’s clear you are starting to make some real headway on the case but instead of progressing further down the obvious path to the likely story points it intimates toward, it tangents off very quickly to a finale which seems a wasted opportunity for another two or three chapters which would have been welcome to follow through on some of the elements uncovered.
A tense and unnerving journey, The Signifier builds the pressure well and asks the difficult questions of whether mankind’s willingness to progress is countered by whether it should progress and the risks around blind innovation and implementation.
The Signifier is out now on PC.